It is an honour to address you today.
First, on behalf of the UN Human Rights Office, allow me to extend our warmest welcome to Under-Secretary-General Volker Türk, whose appointment as the next United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights was approved by the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday 8 September.
His leadership and commitment to championing human rights will be a real asset in the defence of the rights of everyone, everywhere.
Since this Council’s last session in June, several situations around the world continue to raise serious human rights concerns requiring urgent action. I will not touch on those situations that are the subject of separate discussions during this session, namely Afghanistan, Belarus, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Georgia, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Philippines, South Sudan, Sri Lanka and Ukraine.
I welcome the recently concluded peaceful and inclusive elections in Angola as well as in Kenya.OHCHR deployed a surge team to Kenya during the electoral period to bolster UN preventive engagement, and engaged with authorities, the national human rights institution, civil society and grassroots human rights networks. Monitoring continues in the post-election period.
The increase in human rights violations during security operations in Burkina Faso, affecting many civilians, as well as the rise in hate speech and incitement to violence against ethnic minorities are worrisome. We urge the authorities to ensure that the security and defence forces operate in compliance with human rights standards, and to investigate allegations of human rights violations.
The Office is concerned about the deteriorating situation and shrinking civic space in Burundi, including the statement by the Secretary-General of the ruling party in August 2022 calling on the Imbonerakure to continue night patrols and to kill any “troublemakers”. I call on the Government to cooperate with the newly appointed UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burundi, who can support and advise the Government in fulfilling its human rights obligations.
In the Central African Republic, the Government should ensure that defence and security forces and foreign private military contractors immediately cease violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including targeted attacks against Muslims and any other minorities.
In the context of ongoing transitions taking place in several countries such as Chad, Guinea, and Sudan, all alleged violations committed during military operations or in the context of protests must be promptly, impartially and thoroughly investigated. We recall the importance of enabling a vibrant civic space and the holding of inclusive national dialogues.
More than a year on, political instability and civil unrest that started with pro-democracy protests in Eswatini, are reportedly met with excessive use of force by security officers. Shrinking civic space is a serious concern. The Government should address impunity for human rights violations as a critical element for a meaningful and inclusive national dialogue.
Following the recent resumption of hostilities in northern Ethiopia, I am encouraged by the announcement yesterday by authorities in Tigray of their readiness to abide by an immediate cessation of hostilities and to participate in a robust peace process under the auspices of the African Union (AU). I urge the parties to take immediate steps to end the violence once and for all, and to opt for constructive and genuine dialogue.
Our Office in Addis is supporting the work of the Inter-Ministerial Taskforce, including through consultations gathering victims’ views. Despite the Government’s efforts, the pace of implementation of the recommendations of the joint OHCHR-Ethiopian Human Rights Commission report remains slow. To complement this work, the Government should cooperate and allow the International Commission of Human Rights Experts access to Tigray.
Killings in the context of so-called “law enforcement operations”, as well as inter-communal violence along ethnic lines in Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambella, Oromia and on the border of the Afar and Somali regions are of serious concern. I urge the Government to do more to protect people, to launch prompt investigations and ensure that victims and their families have a right to truth, justice and reparations.
The most recent violent clashes in Tripoli, Libya have resulted in civilian casualties and the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and I reiterate calls on all parties to protect civilians, refrain from further violence, and to comply with international human rights and international humanitarian law. Alleged abductions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, including of women human rights defenders, and violence against women continue to undermine the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. I also call upon the authorities to immediately release anyone who is arbitrarily detained.
In Mali, we remain concerned about alleged violations committed during military operations conducted by Malian defence and security forces, who in some instances (reportedly in Menaka, Gao and Mopti) are operationally supported by foreign private military contractors.
In the context of the conflict of northern Mozambique, I urge the Government to investigate and hold to account perpetrators of human rights violations, and of threats and intimidation against human rights defenders, ensuring the findings are made public. I trust that the fruitful collaboration between my Office and the Government that has grown over the last years will help support progress in these areas.
The Office reiterates its call to the Government of Sierra Leone to hold prompt, impartial and thorough investigations into the violence and fatalities that occurred during public protests on 10 August and bring those responsible to account regardless of their status and political affiliation. I urge all sides to embrace dialogue.
I welcome the peaceful transfer of power and the formation of a new Federal Government in Somalia as well as the newly elected President’s statement on the need for universal suffrage for the next elections. Somalia is facing a severe persistent drought with a serious threat of famine in the coming months. International support will be vital to avert a catastrophe.
In Tunisia, concerns are mounting regarding executive interference with the judiciary, including summary dismissals and the launching of criminal proceedings against judges.
Civilians, including journalists, are increasingly being referred to military courts, which fail to meet international standards of fair trial. Also of concern is the imposition of arbitrary travel bans targeting especially members of the opposition. Noting the adoption of a new Constitution, OHCHR urges Tunisia to hold credible and inclusive parliamentary elections, with meaningful participation of the media and civil society, and we are ready to support through our presence in Tunis.
In Haiti, OHCHR has consistently raised the alarm about the unbearable levels of violence and associated human rights abuses involving heavily armed gangs – as well as the urgent need to support State institutions to curtail this violence.
The UN Security Council’s recent decision to extend and reinforce the mandate of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) to address sexual and gender-based violence and tackle arms smuggling, is an important step.
I call on the international community to step up its engagement to help contain the scourge of violence, its impact on the population, and the potential spill over effect on the region. Strengthening accountability is critical and should include a robust oversight mechanism over the police and the establishment of specialized judicial task forces to tackle sexual, financial, and urban violence crimes related to gangs, which have been exacerbating entrenched poverty and inequalities.
I note with optimism the new Colombian Government’s strategy to seek “total peace”, including its commitment to fully implement the 2016 peace agreement with the FARC-EP and the recommendations of the Truth Commission’s final report. My Office is ready to support these efforts and urges the new Government to take decisive measures to protect the population and human rights defenders from rising levels of violence by non-state armed groups and criminal organisations. As mandated under the peace agreement, OHCHR will continue to report to the Human Rights Council on the status of this agreement in relation to human rights.
OHCHR also welcomes the announcements made to reform the security sector and to shift the drug policy from a punitive to a more social and public health approach.
In Ecuador, the economic recession and unresolved social grievances affecting already marginalized populations, sparked widespread protests in June. I regret the loss of life during this period, and hope that the dialogue between the Government and the indigenous movement (CONAIE) will be an opportunity to address some of the underlying causes and find a peaceful solution, in complement to the efforts undertaken by the Catholic Church.
My Office continues to record attacks against human rights defenders in Honduras, ranging from threats to harassment to killings. Out of a total of 120 victims, two thirds are environmental defenders, many of them indigenous or afro Honduran. I call on the State to strengthen the National Protection System for Human Rights Defenders, including by providing it with the necessary financial resources.
I wish to highlight a positive example of cooperation between OHCHR and the Government, in the design of a new framework for the selection of Supreme Court Judges, endorsed by Congress on 18 July. This development is likely to strengthen the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, also given the envisaged creation of an anti-corruption mechanism supported by the UN.
During the first ever visit by a High Commissioner to Bangladesh last month, as well as to the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, the former High Commissioner discussed a full range of concerns with the authorities and offered OHCHR’s support to review restrictive laws governing on-line expression. She encouraged the establishment of an independent, specialised mechanism to investigate allegations of human rights violations, including enforced disappearances, by law enforcement agencies, particularly by the Rapid Action Battalion.
In the polarising environment ahead of the next elections, it will be vital for the Government to ensure freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and for security forces to refrain from using excessive force against protests. Human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists and victims’ families should not face reprisals or sanctions for their advocacy work.
On 31 August my Office published its assessment of human rights concerns in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, with recommendations to the Government and other stakeholders.
In the Papua region (Papua and West Papua Provinces) of Indonesia, we have reports of intensified violence, including clashes between the Indonesian security forces and armed groups resulting in unknown numbers of civilian casualties and fatalities and internal displacement. I am shocked by recent reports of the dismembered bodies of four indigenous Papuan civilians found outside Timika in West Papua Province on 22 August. I note the Government’s initial efforts to investigate, including the arrest of at least six military personnel, and urge a thorough, impartial, and independent investigation, holding those responsible to account.
In Iraq, people continue to suffer the consequences of the political deadlock, amidst economic challenges, a shrinking space for freedom of expression, and the severe impact of climate change. Tensions culminated in violence at the end of August resulting in over 34 people dead and nearly 300 injured. I call upon all relevant actors in Iraq to prevent violence, and ensure the participation of all groups, in particular women and civil society, in national dialogue processes.
The Office is closely following the transitional justice agenda in Nepal, including relevant legislative amendments, and urges the Government to ensure their compliance with international human rights norms and the aspirations and rights of victims. My Office is ready to support Nepal in this regard.
I am alarmed by the targeting of human rights defenders in the occupied Palestinian territory, including the apparently arbitrary closure orders of seven Palestinian human rights and humanitarian organizations in Ramallah on 18 August and threats of arrest for doing their work. OHCHR remains concerned that Israel has not renewed the visas for OHCHR international staff in our Palestine office, further restricting human rights engagement in the occupied Palestinian territory.
There is a disturbing increase in the number of Palestinians, including children, killed and injured by Israeli forces in the occupied Palestinian territory, including in the recent escalation in Gaza in early August and the widespread use of live ammunition in law enforcement operations in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. I call for prompt, independent, impartial, thorough and transparent investigations into all incidents where any person was killed or injured. We note the Israeli military investigation of Ms. Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing and Mr. Ali Sammoudi’s injury and call for a criminal investigation compliant with international law standards.
I deplore the recent executions of at least eight people for drug-related offences in Singapore. My Office reiterates its call to the Government to immediately impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, especially for non-violent drug crimes. In line with international standards, I also urge an end to pressure against journalists, legal professionals, and human rights defenders who peacefully advocate against the death penalty and/or represent persons on death row.
In Vietnam, the government’s growing restrictions on civic space and fundamental freedoms, as well as the sentencing of people on charges related to their human rights work and efforts to promote a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment are worrisome. I urge the government to ensure diverse and robust participation for civil society, including human rights defenders, and to release those who have been arbitrarily detained or imprisoned for such activities.
Since the UN mediated truce was announced in Yemen, the country has witnessed a decline in reported casualties from conflict-related violence. The reopening of Hudaydah port has resolved the fuel crisis but more than 24 million Yemenis still depend on humanitarian assistance, with current levels of funding still below 50% of what is needed. We urge the international community to respond to this appeal.
I condemn the killing of a senior judge following his abduction on 30 August in Sanaa.
I am however encouraged that the Supreme Judiciary Council resumed its work in August and welcome the appointment of its first female member. Yemeni women’s participation is fundamental to transform the truce into a peace process and should be reflected in the political leaderships in Aden and Sanaa. They must also be able to participate in humanitarian work without restrictions or obligation to have a male escort [mahram].
We also once again call for the immediate release of OHCHR and UNESCO staff members, arbitrarily detained by Ansar Allah (Al Houthis) since November 2021.
The former High Commissioner visited Bosnia and Herzegovina in June 2022, during which she conveyed strong messages ahead of the October general elections, occurring in a particularly polarized context. She encouraged political actors to build an inclusive and democratic future. This includes ensuring that all institutions fully apply anti-discrimination legislation across the country, that domestic criminal prosecutions are vigorously pursued, and that progress is made regarding adequate, effective, and prompt reparations to all victims and survivors. The United Nations and our Office are ready to continue support.
In the Russian Federation, the intimidation, restrictive measures and sanctions against people voicing opposition to the war in Ukraine undermine the exercise of constitutionally guaranteed fundamental freedoms, including the rights to free assembly, expression and association. Pressure against journalists, blocking of internet resources and other forms of censorship are incompatible with media pluralism and violate the right to access information. We urge the Russian Federation to reconsider measures taken to expand the ‘foreign agent’ label to include individuals considered to be “under foreign influence”, and to criminalize undeclared contacts with representatives of states, foreign or international organizations deemed to be directed against the “security” of the Russian Federation.
In Tajikistan, particularly in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast, concerns persist about the harassment of human rights defenders and journalists and recent prosecution requests for 25 year or life term prison sentences in some cases, disregarding due process. I urge investigations into human rights violations or abuses and guarantees to ensure fair trials, in line with international human rights standards. The detention and deportation of Afghan refugees and asylum seekers including families with children, are troubling in violation of the principle of non-refoulement.
Ukraine will be discussed later in the session, but as highlighted by my Office as recently as last Friday, the suffering of the civilian population continues.
Globally, the war’s serious socio-economic consequences persist, including severe fuel shortages and threats to food security in some of the poorest countries. I welcome and call for the full respect of the landmark agreement involving Russia, Ukraine, the United Nations and Türkiye in July, which allowed the resumption of shipments of grain and other food supplies from Ukrainian ports and I urge the international community to ensure the food reaches the people who need it.
In the face of soaring energy prices which threaten to impact the most vulnerable as winter approaches, some EU member States are turning to investments in fossil fuels infrastructure and supplies. While that impulse is understandable, I urge the EU and its member States to consider the long-term consequences of locking in more fossil fuel infrastructure. It is essential to accelerate the development of energy efficiency projects and renewables. There is no room for backtracking in the face of the ongoing climate crisis.
In line with their international human rights obligations, I encourage all States to seek an ambitious outcome at UNFCCC COP27, including to address loss and damage and meet and increase climate finance commitments.
I wish to express my sympathy and solidarity with all those affected by the devastating floods in Pakistan. Over 33 million people are affected, with extensive – and potentially irreversible – damage to homes, infrastructure and agriculture.
How many more tragedies of this sort do we need before the urgency of the moment jolts us into action?
The coming months are a critical test to political will.
When galvanised through multilateral and concerted action, by building bridges rather than sowing division, political commitment that is grounded in international human rights standards can propel us forward towards more just and equal societies.
The Call to Action for Human Rights and Our Common Agenda set out the framework for these shifts to take place, recognizing that States can and should use the full gamut of human rights as problem-solving measures, including for inclusive participation and stronger institutions. Fuller use should be made of the international human rights mechanisms. The treaty bodies, UPR and the special procedures are pillars of the international human rights machinery, providing critical oversight and guidance to assist States in moving forward on human rights protection and promotion.
The pursuit of peace, stability and justice unites us all. It lies at the core of the mission of this Council – to fulfil it is therefore, to uphold our collective commitment to the enduring principle that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.